Google announced an interesting new feature yesterday allowing Gmail users to easily unsubscribe from email newsletters through a new button in the Gmail interface.

How it works

While I have some reservations about the approach Google has taken with this new feature, it’s undoubtedly a step in the right direction from Google. Any steps an ISP takes that aims at reducing unwanted email and provide a feedback loop to senders is a very good thing. Here’s how the new unsubscribe feature works.

When using the “Report Spam” button for an email in your account, a new dialog like the one below is displayed with an additional option.

The new unsubscribe functionality in Gmail

For certain senders, a new option is shown (highlighted in yellow above) giving you the option of unsubscribing from the newsletter on top of marking it as spam. When this button is clicked, an email is sent back to the sender informing them that this subscriber would like to be removed from the list.

The good

What’s great about this is that Gmail are finally giving feedback to senders about how their subscribers feel about their emails. Whenever any of your subscribers at Gmail click this button, we can automatically remove them from your list and give you a nice report showing who used this approach to unsubscribe.

They are also only making this functionality available to certain senders. The “Unsubscribe” option will only appear for those with a good sending reputation that also include the List-Unsubscribe tag in their email headers.

Other ISP’s like AOL, Hotmail and Yahoo! have been offering such feedback loops for years now. Campaign Monitor is already integrated into these feedback loops, so we automatically remove anyone who marks your email as spam. It’s also worth noting that Hotmail also supports a built-in Unsubscribe method via the List-Unsubscribe header, which we already support in Campaign Monitor.

The not so good

While this is a fantastic start from Google, there are a number of things I’d love to see happen in future updates.

I think it’s clear that the act of unsubscribing from an email newsletter and marking it as spam are two very different actions. Not only do Google hide the unsubscribe functionality behind the “Report Spam” button, but in order to unsubscribe, you must also report the email as spam. This seems counter-intuitive. It’s like being forced to take out a restraining order just to break up with your girlfriend.

There are plenty of newsletters I subscribe to that at some stage I’ll likely no longer be interested in, but I have no desire to label them as spammers when I explicitly gave them permission to contact me in the first place.

I’d love to see an “Unsubscribe” button added to the default inbox interface right alongside the “Report Spam” button so it can be used as an alternative to a spam complaint. Here’s a quick mockup of how this might look.

Mockup of inline Unsubscribe button in the Gmail toolbar

If a Gmail user does mark an email from a reputable sender as spam, not only should that prevent any further emails from that sender arriving in their inbox, it should also send an Unsubscribe request behind the scenes. This would ensure that individual is removed from the sender’s list and prevent unwanted messages being sent to Gmail in the future.

Will Campaign Monitor support it?

Absolutely. The Gmail technique requires a slight change to our current List-Unsubscribe header approach we implemented for our Hotmail integration. As I mentioned earlier, this is certainly a step in the right direction from Google, and we’ll be implementing the required change to the header of every email sent through Campaign Monitor.

We’ll be sure to post an update here in the blog as soon as this happens.

  • Jake Holman

    What’s odd about this ‘feature’ from Gmail is the fact that actually, an Unsubscribe button does exist (has done for some time I believe) which won’t mark the email as Spam.

    But it’s really really hidden! You need to click on “show details” at the top of the email, and then there should be an unsubscribe option for those email newsletters with the proper header information.

    I can’t decide if I fully support the feature, or if I just think it’s making sender jump yet more hoops for what seems to be very little gain. I’ve blogged about this subject too, so would love your opinions:

  • Wei

    The button doesn’t make sense. If I report an email as spam, doesn’t the action trigger Campaign Monitor to move the subscriber’s email address to the suppression list, thereby “unsubscribing” already? Does this count as just one spam complaint in the campaign reports, and one unsubscribe in addition?

    Why not just separate unsubscribe and report spam?

  • Daniel Sroka

    I dislike this new option. If the newsletter provides a List-Unsubscribe, and comes from a reputable distributor that supports it, then there is no need to both mark the email as Spam and Unsubscribe — an unsubscribe button would do the job of stopping the newsletter.

    Doesn’t this just open the door for people who are did legitimately opt-in to a newsletter, but get bored with it or disagree with something it said, to be a little vindictive and punish the sender by branding him a spammer.

  • Jonathan

    Hm, it’s a bit weird, isn’t it.

    Google writes “you should be able to unsubscribe with a single click” and then makes you first click Spam, then Unsubscribe and report spam. That’s two clicks ;-)

    They’re inviting users (me included) to equate a no-longer wanted e-mail subscription with spam, which is a bit dangerous. They way of Hotmail is much better.

    But … this feature still depends on the user clicking “Report Spam” in the first place, and if our e-mail has encouraged the user to do that, then we’re writing bad e-mails.

  • Daniel Sturm

    Google updated it’s post:

    Update (1:50pm): If you want to unsubscribe without reporting the message as spam, click "show details" in the top-right corner of the message, then click "Unsubscribe from this sender."


    What if I never subscribed in the first place? Isn’t unsubscribing confirming to the spammer that I’m a ‘live’ spam target?

Want to improve your email marketing? Subscribe to get tips on improving your email marketing delivered to your inbox.

Join 200,000 companies around the world that use Campaign Monitor to run email marketing campaigns that deliver results for their business.

Get started for free